Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) posted a record net loss of $10.9 billion for the year ended March 31, 2011

I am naturally curious to read on for the cause of the massive loss and that being the 2nd loss in the last 40 years. Here are the info that I reaped STRICTLY from the articles from Business Times and Straits Times on Friday last.

Numbers as published:-

  • Total loss – $10.9 billions
  • Investment gains before adjusting for exchange rate revaluation – $12.3 billions.
  • SGD up against USD by 10% for year ended March 31, 2011.
  • SGD up against Euro by 5%.
  • Given the stronger SGD, domestic oil prices up by only 10% as compared to 20% on a global basis.
  • MAS manages $299.8 billions in assets as at year ended March 31, 2011 with foreign financial assets representing $287.7 billions ie. 96%!!!!

Here are the various key points discussed:-

  1. Headline in BT attributed the massive loss to strong SGD(Edgar – Thus exchange rate is said to be responsible for $23.2 billions reversal upon valuation of various balance sheet items.)
  2. ‘With recovery in asset markets over the past two years, MAS’ portfolio, excluding exchange rate effects, has more than recovered from effects of the global financial crisis,’ Mr Menon said. The loss is hence the result of ‘a reporting convention’ as per Mr Menon. If MAS reported its financial results in foreign currencies such as the US dollar or SDRs, as some central banks do, it would reflect a ‘healthy profit’, he noted. (Edgar – I presume he is trying to assure us that the loss is mainly due to a valuation exercise as there is no actual cashflow involved. Are you also telling us that if our reference currency is based on any other weaker currency other than SGD, we would be happy with our performance?) 
  3. But is it not a fact that Singapore’s purchasing power has declined by $10.9 billions? Mr Menon said no as the INTERNATIONAL purchasing power of our reserves is unaffected by the strength of Singapore dollars. I guess he is trying to say the $287 billions worth of foreign currencies would still buy Singapore the same amount of goods and services.
  4. So what have the stronger SGD and $10.9 billions loss bought for Singapore? MAS has essentially shielded the domestic economy from even higher inflationary pressures as the stronger SGD effectively halved the impact of higher oil and food prices.

Zero GST for basic goods?

food n price to be paid

On Jul 8, 2011, Dr Mukul Asher, my ex-lecturer of welfare economics in NUS back in 1980s, was asked to answer the questions as follows.

  1. What would be the effect of implementing a zero percent Goods and Services tax for basic commodities?
  2. Would it help to lower the cost of living for lower income families in Singapore?

Firstly, he uniquely used the term “basic commodities” while the article is entitled “… basic goods”. I generally interpreted “basic commodities” as totally unprocessed or barely prossessed raw materials. Consequently, he said GST’s orientation would change to tax on value added at manufacturing, wholesale and retail levels. Example – No GST is to be applied on $5 of carrot and $4 of flour imported. When the carrot and flour became a $25 carrot cake, GST is to be applied on $16 value added. He opined that this system would increase cost of administering the tax by authority and compliance costs by businesses. He didn’t elaborate as to how it could be so. Alternatively we could consider the Australian’s where its GST free supplies include health, education, childcare, religious services, certain foods etc.

Secondly, he concluded that GST revenue would drop due to exemption of basic commodities and prompting higher GST rate. Currently we apply GST on almost on goods and services with government sending cheques with GST rebates to selected individuals to offset regressive tax burdens (a system I am in favour with). So when we compare the two methods in totality, will there be a significant change in collection? Which is more efficient and effective?

Thirdly, Dr Asher applied the basic economic concepts of substitution effect on demand and price when he said households would switch demand from “GSTed” items to “non-GSTed” basic commodities leading to an increase in prices of the latter. This also assume supply of basic commodities would generally be unresponsive. Too simplistic an assumption?

As Dr Asher is a professor of public policy at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, I am sure he has done much more in depth studies and thinking on the issues but the article is too simplistic with conclusions only given cursory elaboration.

Reference – ASHER, Mukul, “Zero GST for basic goods? Bad idea.”, The Straits Times, July 8, 2011.

Taxman overruled again!!

The Court of Appeal overrules IRAS again, twice over the last two months.

What is the issue?
Are portable dormitories considered “plants” as per plaintiff being in the business of providing dormitory services or “buildings” as per IRAS?

At a total cost of $2.6 million, the plaintiff had built and operated 6 blocks of three-storey container-like as temporary workers’ accommodation and administrative use within an industrial estate. Each block was made of “steel beams held by nuts and bolts while panels were inserted within this steel framework to form walls. “The floor was made of timber and each dormitory was topped with a metal roof”.

Decision and Basis
IRAS has been told by the Court of Appeal to treat such portable dormitories as “plants”.

The three-judge court led by CJ Chan Sek Keong overruled the earlier decisions of Income Tax Review Board and the High Court and defined such assets as “plant” on the following criteria:-

  • built on prefabricated materials
  • could be dismantled and moved elsewhere within 90 days’ notice

The Court of Appeal concluded that the definition of plant would depend on “its exact operational role in the taxpayer’s business, its characteristics and the precise factual matrix and context concerned”.

Leung Yew Kwong and Tan Shao Tong from WongPartnership, lawyers for the Plaintiff, had argued that their client’s business of providing dormitory service involved moving and reusing such assets in other sites in the future. [The same team from the same law firm won in the Nov 2010’s case.]

IRAS’ lawyers, Irving Aw and Quek Hui Ling, had relied on past rulings of similar situations. They cited a specific example where circus tents functioned as premises and would not qualify as plants.

To the plaintiff, the decision could now claim for tax relief and secure “a tax savings of at least $500,000 based on 2004 tax rates”.

In my humble opinion, it is a difficult issue for IRAS as acknowledged by Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang. The law does not provide the definition of “plant” (as such words from my tax lecturer still echo in my head after years) and the three-judge court had to dwell on its precise definition in arriving at the decision.

Source – K.C. Vijayan, “Court of Appeal overrules taxman”, The Straits Times, Dec 18, 2010.

Court overrules tax authority

can you pick up customers in yellow box?

What is the issue in dispute?
The company is in the business of leasing aircrafts. The company has subsidiary firms in Cayman Island. The subsidiary firms bought aircrafts with loans pegged to floating interest rates. The aircrafts are rented out to airlines on fixed rental rates.

The subsidiary firms are supposed to use the rental proceeds to service the interest obligations. Often, the firms face revenue shortfall to meet those obligations.

The Singapore parent then entered into interest rate swap arrangements with banks in Singapore to hedge against the risk of floating interest rates on behalf of its subsidiaries. During the 17-month period from October 2006, the Singapore parent company made payments to its subsidiaries overseas as part of interest rate swap arrangements. 

IRAS’s position

  • IRAS has taken the position that these interest payments overseas are subject to withholding tax under provisions dealing with loans borne by the parent firm.
  • The Comptroller argued that such broad interpretation of the relevant section for such payments to be taxable has been accepted by tax advisers, practitioners and businesses in the past.

P/S – The name of legal counsel representing IRAS was not mentioned by K.C. Vijayan, the ST law correspondent.

The Singapore parent’s position

  • The tax authority has taken a too broad an interpretation of the law.
  • Such braod interpretation may actually discourage foreign investors from doing business in Singapore.

P/S – Leung Yew Kwong / Tan Shao Tong from WongPartnership represented the plaintiff.

High Court – Justice Andrew Ang
The Court ruled in favour of the Singapore parent on the following grounds:-

  • interest rate swap payments are not subject to withholding tax under s12(6)(a) of Income Tax Act
  • the payments were not in relation to any loan borne by the firm here
  • IRAS has taken a too broad an interpretation of the law
  • past acceptances by tax advisers, practitioners etc should not be cited to justify an interpretation of the law

The ruling would mean that the Comptroller of Income would have to make substantial refund and pay costs to the Singapore company. The costs to IRAS could go higher when business entities which were involved in similar situations and had paid the taxes may now seek a review with IRAS given the ruling.

Reference – K.C Vijayan, “Court overrules taxman, orders refund for firm”, Straits Times, Nov 6, 2010.

Singapore to have own accountancy qualification. Why?

who says accountants are boring?

What will be happening in 2011?

Singapore will soon have its own post-university professional accountancy qualification.

The Pro-Tem Singapore Accountancy Council is currently developing the programme with the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (ICPAS) in consultation with accounting bodies in the UK, Australia and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

Why is described as “post-university… qualification”?

The certification process will be open to GRADUATES from non-accountancy backgrounds and foreign students. Theoretically a history graduate could go through a “bar exam” before being officially conferred the title of being a “qualified accountant”. [ACCA has done that for me and probably for majority of the accountants in Singapore ie. allows an Economics graduate to become a trained accountant which is internationally recognised.]

Why are we doing this?

Firstly, this is supposed to help Singapore to achieve a leading global accountancy hub status in Asia Pacific by 2020.

In the words of Second Finance Minister Lim Hwee Hua, she said accountancy professionals here and in the region will have an avenue to develop their careers by obtaining credentials that are globally recognised. [Singapore should become the top of mind place to get an accounting qualification that would be recognised by countries in the region.]

She said: “The objective is to develop accounting professionals who are not just deep problem solvers in the core area of accountancy. We also want our accountancy professionals to be equipped with the skills to interact with other specialists and understand technical issues from a wide range of disciplines and functional areas.”

Secondly, the Pro-Tem Singapore Accountancy Council is also looking into alternative niche areas for accountants here to specialise in instead of just focusing on the traditional areas of auditing, accounting and tax.

“We’ve already formed a committee to look at the different specialisation pathways in terms of risk management, for instance, development of CFOs (Chief Financial Officers), internal audit, valuation, taxation. These will be the specialisation, so called qualifications, that we can look at,” said Bobby Chin, chairman of Pro-Tem Singapore Accountancy Council.

Other areas of specialisation such as management accounting or forensic accounting may be introduced later.

Singapore wants to achieve the status of being a talent hub where “travellers from universe can land in Singapore and seek the necessary talents to perform whatever tasks needed”. Remember Han Solo in Star Wars? So if you are looking for a pilot to fly a interglactic spaceship or people to value a tree or to perform due diligence on a nuclear plant acquisition, we should have them here.

Source – / Jonathan Peeris

Exposure Draft on Deferred Tax

Current practice
Companies must state if they intend to rent out or sell the property in future. Appropriate taxes are then applied ie. 17% deferred tax on rental income or 0% on capital gains from disposal of properties.

Proposed change
The respective country’s capital gains tax would be applied to all properties.

Assessed impacts

  • Since Singapore has no capital gains tax, past and future deferred tax provision would not be necessary before the end of 2010. 
  • Net asset values of property firms could go up by 5 to 8% as per Mr Choo Eng Beng, PwC. Share price of property firms could subsequently go up too due to higher valuation.

Can I have a Partnership with one Partner?

Dear friends,

Consider ths situation.

You started a partnership with a friend and you named it “Ah Kow & Partners”. For some reasons, your friend decided to leave the partnership and you continue to run the “partnership” singularly and without a change in business name. Is this acceptable by law?

The Court of Appeal ruled as follows in Orix Capital vs Chor Pee and Partners:-
a) Requested the Law Society to be more transparent about law firms and partners operating which each firm given existing rules within legal profession forbid firms from using names that are misleading and;
b) Chor Pee and Partners was found to be not liable for the debt of $263,000 to Orix Capital as the contract was deemed to have been signed by an individual ie. Lim Chor Pee and NOT by the partnership.

I am wondering why registration of law firms is not under the jurisdiction of ACRA ie. just like any other business entities in Singapore. Please note that the above could be peculiar ony to law firms and not those partnerships under the ambit of ACRA. (I am speculating here. Can someone correct me if I am wrong.)

Bottomline – You cannot have a partnership of one person. But who should make sure this happen?

ACCA Conference 2010 – Cheong Pui Yuen

Pui Yuen’s mentor

Mr Cheong Pui Yuen presented an interesting and honest paper entitled “Transforming the Public Accounting Profession – A Practitioner’s Perspective”.

He attempted to outline some ideas of how we (as an auditng entity, as a member of the public accountants, as customers/clients to audit firms and as accountancy body like ACCA) can respond to the impending changes as highlighted in the CDAS report.

As an auditing entity, you may to seriously think about the following:-
a) expanding scope of services offered;
b) consider gaining scale by working together in local and regional markets
c) explore increasing its capital base given the relax rules governing ownership
d) scenario planning with different audit exemption threshold ie. what if the threshold is increased current $5m to $10m etc
e) scenario planning with increased costs from higher quality expectation (and possibly with limited price increase)

As for customers/clients of auditing entities, Mr Cheong advised as follows:-
a) expect higher service quality;
b) pay a fair fees for service rendered;
c) don’t encourage fees cutting;
d) work with progressive/quality audit entities;
e) and lastly and very checkily he said, “pls don’t take away our resources unnecessarily”.

For accountancy bodies like ACCA, he opined that it should continue to step up its profile, collaborate with other entities from government, trade, other accountancy bodies etc etc. He stressed that it is very important for ACCA to differentiate itself so as to give a reason for its members to continue renewal of their membership.

ACCA Conference 2010 – Tim Hird, Robert Half International

Dear friends,

Tim Hird presented his findings of a joint ACCA/Robert Half research entitled “Talent and Skills in Finance & Accounting Survey 2010 – Uncovering the Challenges”.

May I highlight some of his main points:-

Skills that are lacking in finance & accounts related staff are:-
a) management and leadership skills;
b) interpersonal skills / ability to work within a team and;
c) communications skills.

For employers, the top three retention strategies for staff are:-
a) improve salary package;
b) offer promotion or better career development and;
c) offer flexible hours / work from home.

I understand that the full report will be released by end of month.

Burger King vs Sinar Mas/Golden Agri over green issues

In today’s Sunday Times, I read that Burger King cancelled its contract to buy palm oil from Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART). This is said to be a move to protest over Sinar Mas not adopting sustainable farming practices and destroying rainforests in generating the palm oil.

This is a timely reminder of the importance of “Green Reporting”/sustaintability reporting and SGX’s recent issuance of guidelines (ie. non manadatory) on disclosure of social and environmental aspects of business.

Boards and management of companies are slowly and surely being made accountable to all stakeholders. Many years ago, they were said to be only responsible to shareholders for financial results. Now given emphasis on sustainable reporting, management are now being queried on how they achieve those results and the impact they have on the communities within which they operate in.

While I personally hope for such information to be made available on a statutory basis, I am however happy that SGX has taken the first move to “encourage” such reporting.

Bursa Malaysia is ahead of SGX when it legislated (ie. by law) that such reports be made compulsory back in 2007!!! According to ACCA survey as reported by Darryl Wee, CEO of ACCA Singapore, 49 companies in Malaysia generated sustainability reports in eight years. In comparison, Singapore lagged behind with only 21 companies.

P/S – SMART operates all palm oil plantations for Golden Agri Resources, a company listed in Singapore Exchange.